2022 Position Preview – Offensive Line

I’m not sure any of you are getting much out of these… With the entire offensive staff gone from the previous season (except Beckton) i’ve given you a bunch of “depends on what the new guy likes in his players”. And unfortunately OL is no different. The good news is that after the OL preview, we will shift to defense and there is a bit more known on that side of the ball.

First things first, out goes Greg Austin and in comes Donovan Raiola. While I can get on board with the Joseph and Busch hires, this one takes a little bit of convincing. One of the things that is paramount at Nebraska is being able to recruit, and Raiola has only had one year as a position coach in college where he did that, and that was at DIII Aurora, Illinois. He only spent one year there before heading to the Chicago Bears to help with their OL in an assistant capacity, but not as the main OL coach.

Raiola does have stops as an intern at Hawaii and Graduate Assistant at Notre Dame, but as any of you reading this know, things ramp up a notch when you are responsible for the performance on the field and bringing the players in. How will he acclimate himself to the rigors of the NCAA as opposed to the NFL? After all, he has not been at an FBS program since 2016.

Further compounding the situation is the fact that many of the offensive linemen loved Austin. It reminds me a bit of when Pelini left, Riley was somewhat a dead man walking. There was no way he was going to win the lockerroom, this is a tweet from a player during that time:

Lol y’all fired Bo for Mike Riley? Good thing I’m out ✌️ gona enjoy this last one with my brothers then peace

But let’s be real, it’s not like this position group was winning us 9 games a year like Pelini’s team. So quite frankly something needed to change. If that has some feelings hurt, so be it. And Raiola has his work cut out for him, in nearly every metric Nebraska had one of the worst OLs in the country last year. And we are losing two starters from that in Matt Sichterman and Cam Jurgens. And Jurgens was by far our best OL last year. While many times I mock “returning starters” on terrible teams, sometimes losing guys could be a blessing as well because we are really needing to reverse course here in a hurry.

Let’s start with Turner Corcoran, Bryce Benhart, and Teddy Prochazka. Those are the 3 that really were relied on for the tackle spots this past year, and with good reason. Guys like Benhart and Prochazka were looked at as prototypical tackles when they were recruited. And a guy like Corcoran was recruited to take over for Jaimes when he left. In fact, everyone was so excited about him at tackle when Jaimes opted out of the Rutgers game and we saw a glimpse of what he could do. But he got injured in fall camp and struggled all year. Prochazka blew out his knee in-season so I would hope our staff doesn’t ramp him up for spring. And Benhart was having such a problem on the edge that many people thought we should move him inside. And that’s really been the crux of our issues in my opinion at Nebraska. We get guys that are ideally suited for the position, and either they get hurt or don’t develop. We have to get our tackles figured out.

The next 3 i’ll lump together are Nouili, Hixson, and Piper. Those are our core 3 interior guys that really have the most experience returning. I at one point said if Piper wasn’t a multi-year starter for us something went wrong, and we were off and running as a freshman where he inserted himself to start the final 7 games. But in 2021 he regressed, started the first 3 games then did not start again. Something has gone wrong, is it development? He was injured, but that couldn’t have made it so we didn’t see him again. Many may forget this, but Hixson was a former walk-on that was placed on scholarship as a sophomore in 2019 because he was an every game starter for us. He could be a leading contender at center. But what made him go from starting in 2019 to not starting at all in 2020 and 2021? Lastly from this group we have Nouili the Colorado State transfer who started the final 7 games of 2021. Will he be able to keep his spot? He really struggled to keep the fire when he wasn’t one of the starters, so hopefully they let him run with the 1s off the bat and that keeps his focus.

The next two I put in the same category is Brant Banks and Broc Bando. They have both played guard and tackle for us, and were poised to have at least some say in playing time before being injured. Bando was slated to get his first start then was diagnosed with mono and Banks had an injury that set him back as he was looked at as the swing man between guard and tackle if we needed it. Where do they fit for next year?

The next group is Henry Lutovsky, Alex Conn, and Michael Lynn. These are guys that really haven’t seen a ton of action but are so young I wouldn’t read too much into that. Lutovsky is the one that intrigues me the most, because I have a feeling he will really gravitate towards what I THINK Raiola will want. I would look for him to make a push. Guys like Conn and Lynn are going to have an uphill battle knowing the guys i’ve mentioned before. But if they can adapt the quickest to the new coaching, there is going to be opportunity.

We have 3 new guys to talk about, 2022 signee Justin Jenkins, which excited me from the standpoint that we got rid of the height requirement to get recruited. But was he a reach? People will say no and reference that Rivals shows him having an Alabama offer, but most kids that were offered by the Crimson Tide aren’t sitting around the last weekend before NSD, getting an offer from Nebraska, and committing on the spot. But we also got two transfers in Hunter Anthony from Oklahoma State and Kevin Williams from Northern Colorado. WIlliams is more than likely going to start out for us at guard, and had multiple starts for Northern Colorado in 2019, then FCS did not play in 2020. He started the first two games in 2021 before being suspended from school, but he appealed the suspension and won, but hit the transfer portal shortly after. This is one to watch for maybe being better than we think. Anthony is coming from Oklahoma State where he had 5 starts over multiple years. I would assume we start him out at tackle. But I never know how guys who transfer here will fit in, so those are tough to gauge.

Summary

There is so much to sift through for Raiola that i’m not sure it can all be done in the spring. I think a lot of this competition will bleed into the summer and fall camp. Remember, last year we had our deepest OL heading into a season we ever have, and even were told things like this:

I’m sure that we will hear more of the same in the offseason this year. There’s just so many variables. New OC, losing two starters, new OL coach… what is it they will value? One things for sure, with 14 scholarship guys on the roster they have plenty of options. It’s time they keep them healthy and give themselves a shot. So much up in the air that things will change after every practice this spring.

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18 thoughts on “2022 Position Preview – Offensive Line

  1. I’m enjoying these previews. You might not feel like we get much out of it, but it is still a lot of good info and I appreciate you doing them. I wasn’t too excited about the Raiola hire as I was looking for someone with more experience to be hired. However, I hope he is the answer we need though. I think as a coach you need to go out and get the best assistants available. I don’t know if that was the case here, but I also don’t know all the inside details of who they were targeting. I feel all success starts with the line. It doesn’t matter who is at the skill positions if the QB is always running for his life or there are no holes to run through. To me, this is the most important position to get right in these hires. There has to be development there with the guys we have or the results will be the same. Nebraska has had the pipeline and known for good O-line play. I don’t think its too much to ask to get that back. I feel we are getting quality recruits and don’t feel its a case of misses.

    1. If the rumors are true (and N2FL over at the other site hinted at these), then it sounds like we were looking at Notre Dame’s OL coach which would have been a massive hire. There were also rumors about Army’s OL coach coming this way as an OC, and while I wouldn’t have liked him to be OC here, I wouldn’t have minded him being our OL coach.

      This is the most important spot to get right. We can blame Martinez or the RBs as much as we want, but the fact is we couldn’t line up and run right at Illinois, Minnesota, Purdue, etc. That’s an issue. Hopefully Raiola can get them right.

  2. First off, I appreciate you doing these reviews. Some very good info in these and well written and fair (I think). I kind of like the Raiola hire. I am hoping he is a little more “fiery” than Austin appeared to be (I have never been to a practice, so I am just going off his demeanor in interviews when he was here). Some of the linemen might be upset, but like you said, they were not getting the job done. I would even say that next to Special Teams, the O line was the biggest liability on the entire team, so something had to change for sure. Cant keep doing the same thing and expecting different results. They have certainly beefed up the size and the off the bus look over the last few years, but like you have said several times before, they look stiff and cant seem to get up to the second level or sweeping around too well (Jurgens aside..which I think was a huge blow to the team this year….I wonder what Frost really thought when Jurgens told him he was going to the NFL early???? To be a fly on the wall…..). The one coach, that admittedly has the most unknowns, is going to be responsible for arguably the most important part of the team…it is going to be fun to see how things transpire during the Spring and even into the Fall. That said, I am drinking the CoolAid and think they will get things figured out and heading in the right direction

    1. I think Austin was laid back in interviews, but he got heated when he needed to. I specifically remember 2019 where he was pissed we weren’t running right at people and we ran down the field with what he wanted and he gave a massive fist pump and “fuck ya!” kind of like “I told you so.” He and Frost just had different ideas on personnel and what we were best at.

      Special Teams and OL are the two biggest issues, we nailed special teams. TBD on OL. But can it really get any worse? I’m not sure it can.

      What’s interesting to me is that we seem to do good getting guys looking good, but playing football is a different story. I won’t beat that drum anymore. But what I can tell you is Frost publicly stated they changed things up last year because things weren’t working. And in pictures from this spring in 2022 in the weight room, things that they publicly mocked in 2018 when they got here we are actually using now. For as much disdain as I had for them in 2018 hearing some of those things, I can at least appreciate them understanding they were wrong and shifting to what they hated due to the success other teams have had with it. Now, is our current S/C staff capable of running it at a high level? I don’t know. Is it like telling Mike Leach he needs to run Army’s offense? I don’t think it’s that bad. But I can tell you most colleges now don’t really have a strength program advantage, the information is out there on what to do. However, if you are stunting development and causing injuries, you are setting your kids back. It’s why Saban made a change. Hopefully we do better keeping our top flight recruits on the field.

  3. Offensive Line Rank for NU last 4 years based on 130 teams from FootballOutsiders
    2021: 115
    2020: 46
    2019: 112
    2018: 80

    1. Well that’s disgusting. And where were you when I needed that stat for my article! 2020 makes some sense considering we had 2 draft picks on the line even though everyone said they needed to go.

  4. This is actually the most fascinating position group to me, because I firmly believe there is enough raw talent in the room to cobble together an effective line. So why the severe underperformance?

    Those that I follow on Twitter and other places that actually break down film, and seem to know line play on a very technical level, routinely point out mistakes made in either communication or on the fly adjustments that should be recognized and are missed.

    Benhart getting turn-styled routinely on the edge is one major exception, but outside of that glaring and consistent failure, my perception is that the issue has been scheme over talent. 4 guys can do their job perfectly on any given play and if the 5th takes a wrong step, doesn’t read a stunt correctly to make the same adjustment as his linemates, etc., the entire operation can blow up and routinely does for Nebraska.

    In my mind, if the scheme is complicated and requires high levels of communication and adjustments on the fly, the results very well could be what we’ve seen: tentative steps (hard to smash-mouth a defender if not 100% committed to doing so), simple stunts blowing up the run game, free rushers on the QB multiple times per game, and a lack of big play rushes because we can’t execute well enough to effectively seal the second level defender (at least since Ozibo was here, maybe scheme was simplified that first year?).

    I’m no expert, but this scenario makes the most sense to me. Maybe someone like Raiola that is a detail oriented technician is just what the Dr. ordered, regardless of initial recruiting chops.

    1. I think those are all great points, and the scheme being an issue adds to the confusion for me on what is going wrong. In year 4, you would think that things would be a lot easier. With that said, we had the most veteran line in the B1G in 2020, but took a step back in that department in 2021, so maybe there’s something to that. I think we are just getting confused easily and that makes us look worse than we are. “Playing slow” if you will, and when you go up against the rush ends that Michigan or Purdue had…. it can turn into disaster.

      Hopefully Raiola creates some confidence. To your point, Corcoran, Benhart, there’s some guys that the big boys wanted. We need to see them perform for us.

      1. To your point, if we are confused easily it is one of two issues: 1) Scheme is too complicated to be effectively ran on gameday, or 2) The coach was unable to adequately teach and develop to the scheme.

        We can infer what Frost thinks about the issue.

  5. I can understand that the players’ feelings for Austin can make it difficult to move on to a new coach, but do you think the fact that the OLine hasn’t been very good will motivate them to embrace the change? If I’m the players, I’m disappointed to have lost a coach with whom I’m close, but I’m also tired of being a punch line. Or do they feel Austin was using them correctly and it was Frost and the OC that were holding Austin back. That could be a whole other distaster.

    1. I think that’s pretty spot on. For example, i’ve had more than one ex gf that it sucked right away when the break up happened, but when you look back on it you (or your friends) would say “ya but….” and give tons of examples on why you’re better off. Raiola just needs to show that his way of coaching works in the spring for some guys. Whether that’s technique or a more simplistic way to understand the scheme.

      1. One thing that I am pondering that relates to this issue, but is an even broader topic (article/post idea for you maybe), is the general lack of accountability in the program to date, and how that may have trickled down to individual position groups.

        When Moos was here, I assume there was ZERO daily/weekly accountability applied to Frost. I don’t care who you are, if your boss does not inspect what he expects, a culture of cutting corners and not maximizing resources can easily take over. Being a still young head coach, it is probable that Frost has treated his assistants like he was treated: “I trust you to do your job, and I trust the results will come”. That may work with Chinander, but the offense has been a hot mess the majority of his time here, and he directly “manages” that group.

        I am interested to see if the new management style of Trev will positively impact the overall program, because it may modify the leadership behavior of Frost as well. The best bosses/coaches that I have encountered were not necessarily the ones that I “liked” the most, to the point about Austin above, but I sure as heck respected them. Effective leaders in sports and business hold their people accountable to daily activities that ultimately lead to a successful outcome, and that is a learned skill developed over time.

        Now that Frost’s feet are squarely in the fire, can he change his style and adapt to the heat? Is that easier to do with an overhauled offensive staff? I think so but it will be interesting to see.

      2. That’s true. And taking it a step further, I’m pretty sure this staff came in saying “we know what we are doing” and probably didn’t think they needed a ton of guidance despite being young.

  6. This position group is the one that worries me most long-term. We have hit on some theoretically big-time recruits with the likes of Benhart, Corcoran, Lutovsky, and Prochazka. 1st, none of these have all that impressive yet for a sustained period of time (I know some are still very young and will have time to prove themselves or haven’t had playing time yet).

    But other than none of them panning out (yet), if they’re the best we have and they go down with injury, I think our recruiting in quality and numbers have been really lacking for the OL in the past few years, so I really worry about our depth here.

    Yes, maybe the the guys we got the past few years will exceed expectations, but that could happen for any program anywhere, and at least on paper to me it doesn’t look good. I feel like we need to have a really good OL class this year, or really do well in the portal to have a shot at a decent line in the years to come.

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